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It began with a whirring projector fueled by earnest minds. Colorful beams of light splashed onto the wall outside the district's Exceptional Education office, displaying familiar green flowers and two well-known phrases in Tucson: "be kind" and "sé amable." The owners of those earnest minds were the students, volunteers and employees of the TUSD Community Transition Programs. They sketched away, outlining the images in order to prep a blueprint where glass, tile and grout would soon go. It would become Tucson Unified's very own Ben's Bells Mural.
The Community Transition Programs of TUSD shares more with The Ben's Bells Project than neighboring casitas in Main Gate Square. The two programs collaborate daily in order to get students with learning disabilities work experience for life. One example is "Kind Stitches," where CTP students collect gently used clothes and embroider them with the Ben's Bells logo, then sell the gear in order to generate revenue to support kindness education programming.
"We support students with disabilities who are interested in developing career opportunities," explains Dan Perino, the coordinator for the Community Transition Programs. "We use an internship model to be able to have our students have hands-on experiences out in the real world working with employers."
Ben's Bells is one of over 17 community partners that the students go to on a daily basis in order to gain skills and experience to build toward a career. The partnership between The Ben's Bells Project and the TUSD Community Transition Programs dates spans almost a decade, dating back to 2008.
"It's extremely important to me that our students are able to serve their community," states Maggie Gedebou, the program coordinator for the transition from school to work. "By volunteering with the Ben's Bells Project, they are in fact, serving their community."
For the program to oversee the creation of their very own Be Kind mural – the first to feature both the English and Spanish phrasing – is a sort of full-circle event for those in TUSD. The Community Transition Program was integral in initiating the "Be Kind" murals all across Tucson when the partnership began.
"It's very exciting to have the full community effort to do it here at 1010," continues Maggie. "There will be hundreds of hands who have touched pieces of tile; who have glazed the tile; or who have helped to install the mosaics."
The process was long, arduous, and required intense planning. It commenced with the tracing of the projector images and then continued over several weeks this past April with the decorating, glazing and firing of the tiles. Once the tiles were ready, they were affixed to the mosaic and grouted over.
Along the way, the CTP students maintained an active role in working with volunteers and members of the school district to teach the steps and oversee the progress, similar to how they do in all of their roles across the programs. The planning and collaboration required for the mural was a reflection of work that prepares the students to move on in life.
"I love that you have the opportunity of going different places and learning different job skills," remarks Caitlynn Deemer, a CTP student who diligently glazes a tile as she speaks.
The Community Transitions Program hosts a graduation ceremony every year, much like traditional high schools across the district. Though anxiety always runs high at the thought of the future, CTP students already have a leg up on their next step thanks to the training they have received. For the students and employees of the program, the creation of their very own Be Kind mural was its own culminating event.